Earlier this month, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin uttered these infamous words: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape.”
Oops, no. Sorry. Wrong quote. Those were actually the words of Whoopi Goldberg spoken in defense of convicted child rapist and film director Roman Polanksi. Goldberg was of the opinion that the little so-and-so (the 13-year-old girl, not Polanski), had it coming. Or something. The price Goldberg paid for her “slip” was exactly nil.
I have it now! What Akin said, in answer to a question of the abortion in the case of rape, was this:
Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.
Not a particularly fluid explanation, and a poor choice with legitimate. What Akin meant was that in the cases of, as Whoopi would put it, “rape-rape”, a woman is less likely to become impregnated than if she has intercourse with her husband. And that even if she did become pregnant as a result of rape, “the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” Because abortion is always wrong.
Incidentally, it is an empirical, not a moral, question whether a woman is less likely to become pregnant from a rape. The answer is therefore irrelevant to whether it is moral to kill the baby. As in irrelevant. Akin and his many critics, including those who should know better, forgot this. Nevertheless, here is a quotation from one doctor1, showing that Akin might not have been far wrong:
A 1988 textbook, the second edition of “Human Sex and Sexuality” by Edwin B. Steen and James H. Price, estimates a 2 percent pregnancy rate. A 2012 textbook, “Comprehensive Gynecology,” 6th edition, gives an estimate of between 2 percent and 5 percent and states that “in the experience of most sexual assault centers, the chance of pregnancy occurring is quite low.” Estimates depend on flawed methods, with inevitable biases. An experiment to give an accurate figure is, of course, impossible. And does the estimate really matter to the woman who has been raped? Either she gets pregnant, or she doesn’t.
Another tidbit: the woman behind Roe v Wade, Norma McCorvey, who wanted women to legally kill their fetuses, testified to the Supreme Court of impregnations due to rape. She recanted in 1988 and said to the Senate2:
The affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court didn’t happen the way I said it did, pure and simple. I lied! Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffey needed an extreme case to make their client look pitiable. Rape seemed to be the ticket. What made rape even worse? A gang rape! It all started out as a little lie, but my little lie grew and became more horrible with each telling.
One imagines (this was 1973) a young Al Sharpton taking notes. Anyway, back to Feser!
Natural law says rape is wrong. We all, at some level, acknowledge this when we say rape is wrong. And it is absolutely wrong, which means it is always wrong, regardless where and when people happen to be. It would be wrong even if a body of men made rape “legal”—say, in Hollywood, as long as the perpetrator had won one of: Oscar (earned or honorary), Emmy, Tony. A Golden Globe allows only groping.
But why is rape wrong? It is hardly an explanation to say, “Because natural law says it is.” The question is: how do we arrive the morally true principle “rape is wrong” from natural law?
The “nature” of a thing, from an Aristotelian point of view, is, as we’ve seen, the form or essence it instantiates. Hence, once again to haul in my triangle example, it is of the essence, nature, or form of a triangle to have three perfectly straight sides. Notice that this remains true even if some particular triangle does not have three perfectly straight sides, and indeed even though…every material instance of a triangle has some defect or other. The point is that these are defects, failures to conform to the nature of essence of triangularity; the fact that such defective triangles exist in the natural world and in accordance with the laws of physics doesn’t make them any less “unnatural” in the relevant sense.
To change one of Feser’s example in a way I hope he approves of, suppose it were discovered that a gene or genes were associated with rapists: rapists have this gene or genes more often than do non-rapists. This empirical fact would not make rape “natural” or morally right. Nor would we suddenly attend “rapists pride” parades.
Nor would it be plausible to suggest that God “made [rapists]3 that way,” any more than God ‘makes’ people to be born blind, deaf, armless, legless, prone to alcoholism, or autistic. God obviously allows these things, for whatever reason; but it doesn’t follow that He positively wills them, and it certainly doesn’t follow that they are “natural.”…
In the same way, should it turn out that a desire to molest children has a genetic basis, no one would conclude from this that sexual attraction toward children is a good thing, even if the person who has it was able to satisfy his disgusting urges without actually touching any children…
Now I realize, of course, that many readers will acknowledge that we do in fact have these reactions, but would nevertheless write them off as mere reactions. “Our tendency to find something personally disgusting,” they will sniff, “doesn’t show that there is anything objectively wrong with it.” This is the sort of stupidity-masquerading-as-insight that absolutely pervades modern intellectual life, as it has the same source as so many other contemporary intellectual pathologies…For we need to ask why there is a universal, or near universal, reaction of disgust to certain behaviors, and why certain traits count as unnatural even though there is a genetic factor underlying them.
Human beings “have a nature or essence, and the good for them, like the good for anything else, is defined in terms of this nature or essence.” And the “good for us is in fact whatever tends to fulfill our nature or essence in the sense of realizing the natural ends or purposes of our various natural capacities.” Doing what is good “may require a fight against one’s desires and such a fight might in some cases be so extremely difficult and unpleasant that one might not have the stomach for it.”
But can we derive an ought from an is? Yes.
[H]uman beings have a formal cause—their form, essence, or nature—and this formal cause entails certain final causes for their various capacities. So, for example, our nature or essence is to be rational animals, and reason or intellect has as its final cause the attainment of truth. Hence the attainment of truth is a good for us..[T]he sense of “good” in question here is a completely objective one, connoting, not some subjective preference we happen to have for a thing, but rather the conformity of a thing to a nature or essence as a kind of paradigm (the way that, again, a “good” triangle is just one which has perfectly straight sides…).
Given our capacities and the existence of formal causes, “what is good for human beings in the use of those capacities is to use them only in a way consistent with this final cause.” And all this “remains true whatever the reason is for someone’s desire to act in a way contrary to nature’s purpose—whether simple intellectual error, habituated vice, genetic defect, or whatever—however strong that desire is.” Including, of course, a desire to rape.
As Feser says, this “subject requires a book of its own.” He only provides the barest sketch and covers only the most contentious areas. Nowhere does he, nor do I, for example, attempt to show, in complete detail, just why rape is wrong. He shows why abortion is wrong, even in the case of rape. It is the killing of a human life—in a, it hardly needs to be said, unnatural way.
1Disclosure: I met Dr Orient at the DPP conference where I was invited to speak.
2Interestingly, the linked article was written by a woman who was conceived in a rape.
3Feser used club feet as his example, not rapist. This is my change.